House Made Podcast

Episode #17 - So What Is Bourbon, Exactly?

May 24, 2021 House Made Season 1 Episode 17
House Made Podcast
Episode #17 - So What Is Bourbon, Exactly?
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House Made Podcast
Episode #17 - So What Is Bourbon, Exactly?
May 24, 2021 Season 1 Episode 17
House Made

In this episode we explore what it means to be bourbon and the basics for anyone that might be wondering.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we explore what it means to be bourbon and the basics for anyone that might be wondering.

Speaker 1:

This is the housemaid podcast. We're your hosts, John Vieira and Nick bobbin. We're going to cover your questions about home bartending. So let's get into it.

Speaker 2:

Welcome back guys. Another episode of the housemaid podcast today, we're going to tackle bourbon, which is a pretty hot topic nowadays bourbon, super popular, but there's a lot of , uh , confusion as to what it is like exactly what it is or what does it mean to be bourbon? Because there's so much whiskey out. There's so much good whiskey , uh, that it can be a little confusing. So let's dive in. Okay. So let's start there. So it's whiskey, which is con that's the confusing part, I think is the actual category of whiskey itself. Yeah . Whiskey is a vast umbrella. Yeah. So whiskey spans the entire globe and it essentially is the likeness that the U S government defines it as spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 50% alcohol by volume, having the taste aroma characteristics generally attributed to whiskey and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume. So that literally means anything. So that is scotch is a whiskey, right? Has he made in Scotland and Scotland? Canadian whiskey. Yeah. Which is a , literally the noticeably blended, isn't it? Oh yeah. Like the category is called Canadian blended. I believe maybe that's a hyphen though. I don't know. Um, Japanese whiskey, Japanese whiskey, which is very similar in a lot of ways to scotch, but is technically different and does not come from Scotland. So you can't call it scotch Irish whiskey, Irish whiskey. Um, and so then you've got American whiskey. Right. But that brings us back to bourbon. Yeah. Cause that's what it's called. It's called bourbon whiskey, but there's more well just bourbon, but that, okay, well, let's start with bourbon because let's just, let's let's start there. So it is the us government defines bourbon whiskey as whiskey produced in the United States at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume from a fermented mash of not less than 51% corn and stored at not more than 62% alcohol by volume in charred new Oak containers. Okay. That's literally what the law says. So that means we're talking corn, corn, bourbon, synonymous bourbon is corn with corn. Yup . So, and it can be made anywhere. Yeah. It can be made in Utah. We made in Colorado made in New York. That is probably the, the most common question regarding bourbon that I get asked is, does it need to be made in Kentucky? Technically? No. Technically no, all 95% of it or at least close to is

Speaker 3:

Coincidentally, but it does not have to be. Yup .

Speaker 2:

Which is so that's cool. But there's a lot of as, as we were digging into, what's what, there's a lot of other , um, labels that you can start to slap on to this stuff.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Um, which is super interesting. So we were talking about the mash bills and we're not going to go into grave detail with this because we're talking about bourbon today. However, most of you guys listening are aware that there's other types of whiskey, right? Rye is probably the other most notable one besides bourbon, but you've also got a whiskey American whiskey specifically made from a malted barley , um, and primarily wheat and all of these rules and everything that we just read from the TTB is exactly the same across the board for these categories, at least , uh, except for instead of 51% or more corn in the mash bill for bourbon. When you talk about rye whiskey, it has to have 51% or more rye and the mash bill , so on and so forth. Um, and there's, there's a bunch of different styles. So that is the main difference. Just remember that as you go through, if something's labeled as a multid whiskey, they're talking about malted barley.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And I think to also touch on the mash bill, what a mash bill is, is the combination of grain that they're using to from it before they even start distilling the product itself. So we're literally talking about the corn wheat, rye, barley, whatever you throw into your fermentation bat, and then let the yeast start eating it. That's what they call a mash bill.

Speaker 3:

And that's a big part of your flavor profile. Right. That's what makes that's what makes these products different? Think about it like a marinade. So you're like, yeah. So I'm going to make, I'm going to make a tri tip. Yeah . What are you going to marinate it in? Well, I like to do this, this and this and somebody else might say, well, that sounds pretty good, but I like to do this, this and this. Yep . And so that's what , that's where all of these , um, big differences in the flavors come from. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Uh, so it was just it's uh , the government stepped in to regulate what makes whiskey or bourbon, sorry. Uh , bourbon. And , and that's where, that's where you get the regulation on that .

Speaker 3:

Nashville. It is interesting to note , uh, this is pretty self-explanatory to a lot of people that , that drink whiskey. Um, but bourbon has to be made in the United States of America. It cannot be made outside of America. There's lots of fantastic whiskey. It was called whiskey. When you were at exactly us , there's plenty of great products that are made outside of America, but it has to be made in the United States to be considered bourbon.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So it's like, so bourbon is to America. What tequila is to Mexico. Yeah. It's our national spirit. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

If you could get your hands on some McGarvey, you could make something in the U S that was very similar to , to tequila, but you couldn't call it. The kid not

Speaker 2:

Call it tequila. I don't even think you call it mezcal.

Speaker 3:

Probably. There's probably some kind of very strict guidelines .

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I don't even know what you would call that. Uh , anyways, so there's more labels you can slap onto these bourbons as well. Oh, I think, I think we didn't even touch on this. There is no age requirement for bourbon. Yeah. Which I thought there was just the straight up like minimalist category of bourbon could be made anywhere in America. It has , um, upper level distillation , um, alcohol by volumes. And it has aging alcohol by volumes requirements. And it has bottling alcohol by volume requirements, but it doesn't actually have an aging requirement.

Speaker 3:

So it has to touch the barrel has to touch

Speaker 2:

A barrel and it has to be a new barrel. So you'd have to age it for a certain point of time anyways. Cause it's, you can't reuse the barrels . Yeah .

Speaker 3:

It's a waste at that point , classifies that it has to be stored in this barrel. Doesn't say that you have to age it. There's no definitive time. Mark. And now this is just, this is the bigger umbrella. Remember we're talking about bourbon, bourbon whiskey. As you whittle that down, there actually does come the implication of age statements and stuff like that. So

Speaker 2:

Straight bourbon whiskey is where you start to introduce an age statement and that is bourbon whiskey stored in charred new Oak containers for two years or more. Okay. And it can still be called straight bourbon whiskey. Um, it goes on to say it may include mixtures of two or more straight bourbon whiskeys , uh, provided all of the whiskeys are produced in the same state. Okay.

Speaker 3:

So it's a straight bourbon whiskey whiskey. If it's everything from the same state,

Speaker 2:

Only if it's a blend, like if you're blending it. So like most of our core line products, right? Um, that you think of like , uh, the Buffalo trace, the maker's Mark, the Elijah , Craig's all those guys, their core products, their small batches is usually what they label them as, but they're blended a bunch of different barrels together, but they can still call it straight bourbon whiskey because it's made in the same state and all those barrels that they blended together at least two years old. And we're blending all these whiskeys together to get a very even consistent uniform product from bottle to bottle. Uh, that way, when you go to the store, six months, eight months, three years, five years from now, the product stays the same.

Speaker 3:

Exactly. And that was what we touched on in our tequila episode as well. Is that to say that something's a blend can sometimes have this negative connotation to it because you're thinking like, Oh , what are you blending with? It was like , they're blending their order. They're blending their own product .

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Because the Japanese were doing that too with their gin. Remember , that's why it's so killer. Um, that was

Speaker 3:

Why blended scotch came to be a thing as well as people wanted consistency. Cause a lot of the scotch back then was very hit or miss. And so somebody was like, look, this is madness. I need a consistent product. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Well, so that's like when you start talking about single barrels, right? Cause you can buy these products. They're single barrel products that are regularly available on the shelf. One that comes to mind is the four roses and it's not even crazily expensive. No it's 40 ish dollars for the bottle I think, or something, maybe 45,

Speaker 3:

Something like that. It's not crazy in the world of urban because some of this stuff gets really up there

Speaker 2:

First getting into bourbon that set me backwards actually from single barrels because I bought, I liked their small batch so much. I was like, Oh, I'm going to , I bet you I've really liked. This is the next tier up is more expensive. Like I'm going to treat myself and buy this will just happens. That that single barrel that I bought was garbage.

Speaker 3:

So I had a , I had a very similar experience and in my, in my youth, I don't think I appreciated some of the things that I would now. Um, but I had a very similar experience in the fact that I tried a single barrel product and there was so much bold character and flavor to it because it was not blended on a larger scale consistency , higher ABV too . Yeah, it definitely was in this case. Um, and so I wouldn't say that this one that I had was bad, but it was very aggressive and it was different from what I was expecting almost off-putting. Yeah. And when you buy something, when you decide to spend more money on something and you think this is the next tier up, this is going to be better. It's kind of disappointing. Even if it's still a good product, it's disappointing because that's not what you expect. You still got to define , I guess what better means ? So just, just for you guys, if you are approving the liquor store and you see something that's maybe a brand you're familiar with or that you've wanted to try and they have a single barrel product that's different from their normal, like Coraline , just know you may not like it as much. It might be like kind of over the top

Speaker 2:

On the , on the flip side, if you do super like it, there's only 240 bottles of it. That particular barrel you, chances are, you won't get the same one again.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Usually they have bad numbers and stuff on it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. But like, if you super like it and that's where you get some of these Uber duper rare kind of whiskeys , and you hear about this stuff, that's going for thousands and thousands of dollars a bottle it's because it was one from one of these barrels and that certain distiller and it was fire. It was so good. But it's a limited quantity. It's a supply .

Speaker 3:

Isn't that? What's so funny about like collecting you find something that's so amazing. You're willing to spend that price, but you can't drink it and enjoy it because you're collecting it because it's worth money. I guess. It's so funny. I have a friend that collects comics and that's his thing he bought to read them . Yeah. He can't the comic. He can hold it and look at it. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

In a like airtight case.

Speaker 3:

And I, I get it. I understand. It's just kind of strange to me, I guess I'm , I'm kind of one of those guys. It's like, if I it's meant to be enjoyed. Yeah. If I get something, especially if I'm spending some serious coin on it, like I'm going to use that thing back in the day. Like my guitars would always get just Jack gnarly , jacked up. And everyone was like, Aw man, why don't you take care of that? Like, why don't you do this? And that I'm like, it's a tool, man. I got it. I got a mess. Yeah . Okay.

Speaker 2:

So , uh, straight bourbon whiskey, which brings us to the labels that most people see now on a bottle right there called Kentucky straight bourbon whiskeys. So you're literally talking about the state specified state, Kentucky straight, meaning that it has to be aged at least two years and made in the same state. And they just literally define the state for you on the label. And then it is bourbon whiskey, which we touched on being corn and in new charred Oak barrels. And so that's the label that everyone, everyone usually sees, I think.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. And I think , uh , Buffalo trace is a really good example. I know there's a million of them out there, but we're big fans of the Buffalo trace distillery at craft. Um, and the reason why I say this is because when you look at their, their product label, the , this is what you see. There's not a whole bunch of extra writing. There's not a whole bunch of stuff going on. You see this bottle, you see this Amber colored liquid in it and you see this Buffalo on the front of it. And under that, it literally has their logos has Buffalo trace. And below that it says Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, that's all that's on the front of it. So that's kind of cool. Uh , it's just a really good example of what that looks like in the wild. And then you're going to see other bottles like , uh, like Blanton's Blanton's is a cool bottle kind of short and stubby. It's good bourbon, but it's got a ton of writing on it. If you look at that label and it's like a tiny strip

Speaker 2:

That's , that's a single barrel product

Speaker 3:

Too . Yeah. That one is single barrel . So they're not the same. But what I mean is like, when you're looking at the , the vernacular on these labels and the descriptions, like some labels are a lot easier to tell what you're looking at than others.

Speaker 2:

Um, okay. So then I also want to talk about bottled in bond. Cause this is a pretty good hack , uh, that I've, I've found out. Uh , you don't have to spend a ton of money, but if you find like a bottom ish shelf bottle and it says bottled in bond on it, chances are it's going to be good .

Speaker 3:

Good. Yeah. Well, because it's extremely consistent.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So that the bottled in bond , uh, S label came out of an act called the bottle and bond act of 1897 , um, which was the , one of our government's like first , uh, things to try and make whiskey consistent or make Burbank . I don't even think it was called bourbon at that point in history. Um, and so they laid out that it must be produced in one distilling season and it distilling season is January to June or July to December. So it's either first six months or the last six months of the year,

Speaker 3:

Which is why most of these bonded products are allocated as well. Yeah . Because they only come out at a certain point in the year.

Speaker 2:

I am they're aged longer. So it's, it's one distilling season from one distillery produced by one distiller. So if it's a big distillery with multiple distillers , um, and then it has to be aged for not less than four years and then bottled at 50% alcohol by volume. Now the whole time that it's aging for those four years, it has to be in a government bonded warehouse. So the distillery literally has to call up the feds and be like, Hey, will you come and put a lock on our door and monitor this warehouse?

Speaker 3:

Yeah . I wonder whose job that is like , um , so back to what you said , um, cause I feel like when we talk ABV sometimes it just like flows in one ear and out the other, all bonded products are a hundred proof. Yeah . 50% alcohol by volume. That's just where they have to be. So any product that you find on the shelf that is a bottle and bond product will not be anything other than 100 proof

Speaker 2:

Proof, which proof is just double the alcohol by volume. I like, I, for my numbers brain, I like alcohol by volume a lot more. Cause it makes more sense to me. What , so I'm like looking at a bottle I'm like, Oh, 50% of this bottle is ethanol. The other 50 is water and flavor from the barrel

Speaker 3:

Actually. Yeah. It's way more intuitive. It makes a lot more sense because you can only have a hundred percent of something, right? Yeah . So if it says like, Oh yeah, this is a 56% ABV okay. Well that means in this bottle that 56% of it is

Speaker 2:

More booze than

Speaker 3:

Others . I think that's a better way to look at it. But uh , because of the marketing and the stuff that people see a lot of times the proof, especially on the bonded items,

Speaker 2:

Proof is a , uh , is a , a strictly American thing I think.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I think it might be actually, and I don't even know we should look up where that came from because it doesn't, it's really not necessary, but , um, it's everywhere. Yeah. The reason I brought that up is because like the written house bottle, not that that's a burden by the way, but um, any bonded product that you see, that's usually a really big push on the label is like 100 proof. Like it says right there.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Oh yeah. Well, so this is like, that's like an extra above and beyond step that the distiller has to take to get this bottled in bond label on their product. And here's the craziest part is they're not always crazy expensive, like is , uh , is awry absolutely phenomenal. It's like 20 bucks, 23 bucks,

Speaker 3:

Probably closer to 25. Now I think it's gone up a little bit, but still that's a phenomenal price for the bowl , but it is

Speaker 2:

All kinds of things. I'm just looking around at the bottom shelf, bottom two shelves of like whiskey and you run across one that says bottled in bond, like try it. Chances are it's pretty. Yeah .

Speaker 3:

Good . And a lot of these brands have one . Oh yeah. Like if you , if you can find it. Yeah .

Speaker 2:

And well, some of the nicer brands too , they're bottled in bond products are probably more expensive and they're probably harder to come by them.

Speaker 3:

Right . It's more, it's more of like a elaborate marketing thing. Whereas like the cheaper brands is, they're just like,

Speaker 2:

Hey, we're trying to sell stuff. And they're like, look, our stuff's good. We

Speaker 3:

Have this. So a really good example of that. I don't know if you guys are listening. I'm not sure what's available in your area, but something that's available here. That's really good is the old grand-dad bonded. Um, the regular old granddad is not very good, but the bonded one is actually killer pretty killer. And it's, I think it's like 22 or $23. Ooh .

Speaker 2:

Okay. So here's, here's a good thing. Like if you want to get into , into bourbon and where do you start when you go? Cause especially the liquor stores here, you walk into it or like the bar, half of it is bourbon.

Speaker 3:

You look at price point, right. At least that's where my brain would go. Like , okay, where am I going to start? What? I'd go to the liquor store. I'd look at what's available. And I would say it's pretty , uh , it's a pretty safe bet to try to avoid the very bottom shelf. Yeah. I would say in my case,

Speaker 2:

Because you're going to run into stuff like old Crow and Monarch and

Speaker 3:

Idaho silver and nasty stuff. I mean, Evan Williams is down there. It's probably , it's probably the best of the bottom. I haven't spent a long time. So I tried Evan Williams and you find diamonds in the rough too . Like I'm not saying it like anything. Well like downrange for example.

Speaker 2:

So we use that very heavily as our well in the bar. We advocate a lot for, it is very firmly. A bottom shelf bar .

Speaker 3:

Yeah . It's 11 bucks, but it's really, really good. It's probably the best utility, which we've talked about this before is probably the best utility , uh , bourbon bottle in our area. But yeah, I think for me, I'd walk in and I would look at kind of those middle couple shelves and I'd try to lock price points into it and just say like what, what seems to be comparable. Yeah. Um, knowing what I know now, because of this show, I would absolutely buy four bottles at once and just do an actual shootout and just commit to drinking them. I know that's probably a lot for some of you, but it's like a hundred bucks. Yeah . It's such an enlightening experience to do the blind method, the way that we've done. Um , because it takes the marketing and it takes the hearsay and all that stuff completely out of the equation. It's really cool.

Speaker 2:

Uh, okay. So sorry. I just, I just Googled, where does proof come from? And it says, according to legend, the concept of proof comes from soldiers in the British Royal Navy who back in the 18th century had to douse their gunpowder in rum as a test of its potency.

Speaker 3:

Oh, okay. So it's the potency,

Speaker 2:

If the wet gunpowder still ignited, it was proof. So the alcohol was higher than 57% cause that's flammable. Wow. Okay. So if you doubt your gunpowder and ramen, it didn't light . You're like maths .

Speaker 3:

I'm not drinking that. No, that's that's really funny. Um, but

Speaker 2:

No , it does say according to legend , so who knows?

Speaker 3:

That makes perfect sense though. I mean,

Speaker 2:

That's hilarious. That's alcohol history in a nutshell for you. Yeah , pretty much. Um, okay, so , uh , whiskeys or sorry, bourbons. Where do we start? So actually we are doing another shootout with some bourbons where we think , um ,

Speaker 3:

Are we going to do a shootout where we know what they are and just taste them? Or are we going to do a blind? I think, I think

Speaker 2:

We should do the shootout because they're so wildly different. They're going to be different. They're going to be very deep . It's just like the , I mean think , Oh no tequila. We did, but

Speaker 3:

Do a blind. We can do a blind. Cause I think about the color would be the main thing that would give it away and they should all be like very close and we picked stuff that's all very firmly in the same price.

Speaker 2:

And I just, I tried to pick different , um, parent companies. So I picked up a bottle of maker's Mark, which was actually the most expensive. Um, and then I picked up a bottle of old Forester, which was actually the cheapest. And then we got an Elijah Craig and I got one more.

Speaker 3:

I have to look at Buffalo trace . Oh it was Buffalo trace.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Okay . Um, and so you're talking about 19 to $29, I think is our price range. And the old Forester was on sale for 19. It's usually like 24. So then you're talking about a $5 price difference here. I really think that, and I picked all Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is it's all the same labeling.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. We should do it blind then because they're very comparable. Yeah . Um, the , uh, I think that 20 to $30 price range is going to be this

Speaker 2:

Sweet spot spot to start one of my favorite bourbons when I was very first starting getting into this whole thing was , um, the four roses, small batch.

Speaker 3:

That is a good bottle. The four roses,

Speaker 2:

Yellow labels. They're cheaper one. It is not nearly as good. They're small batches, phenomenal. It's a little expensive. It's like $33. And then they're single barrel as we already talked about it was off-putting to me when I started.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. And I actually did try that same bottle. Um, maybe like six years ago now, like before I cared as much and I , I, wasn't a huge fan. Yeah. Um, so yeah. Uh, join us next time. Let's do that. Is there anything else we need to , uh, cover in this one? You think? I don't think so. I did find this little tidbit that I'll mention that I just thought was really interesting. I was trying to figure out where the name bourbon came from. Oh yeah. I do know the answer to that. No, but I did read a , I D I just in this research, right. There's speculation. I don't know if anyone knows for sure. It's probably just like everything else in cocktail history. Yeah . I thought this was interesting though, because I've never, I've never really thought about it, but , um, it says that it's most likely either from bourbon County in Kentucky, which seems like the obvious answer. Yeah. But bourbon County got his name from somewhere. Exactly. Which this goes into say , um, or bourbon street in new Orleans, which when I hear, when I hear both of those, I assume that they came from, from whiskey, the whiskey. Yeah . The Notability of that, but it's from France, isn't it? Yeah. So , uh, both of those things took their names from , uh, the house of bourbon, which is a European Royal house of France , French origin. So I just thought that was really interesting. I kind of stumbled upon that. Yeah. I mean, it makes sense for history, right? Because this whole continent that we live on gets all of its roots from either the French, English or Spanish. Those were the conquerors of old world and they conquered this new world and that's all of our history . We're just a bunch of people trying to escape the persecution. Exactly. Let me just start making bourbon. All right . Well , join us next time. We're going to , I apparently do a blind taste test. That's more fun. Um, of some popular bourbon brands let's get after it. Yeah. Cheers. Cheers .

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] .